Without any formal training in music composition, Irving Berlin took a knack for music and turned it into the most successful songwriting career in American history. Berlin was the first Tin Pan Alley songwriter to go uptown to Broadway with a complete musical score (Watch Your Step in 1914); he is the only songwriter to build a theater exclusively for his own work (The Music Box); and his name appears above the title of his Broadway shows and Hollywood films (Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn), still a rare honor for songwriters. Berlin is also notable due to the length of his career in American Song; he sold his first song at the age of 18 and passed away at the age of 101 having outlived several of his own copyrights. Throughout his career, Berlin showed that a popular song need not be of a lesser quality than songs informed by the principles of "classical" music composition. Forty years after his last published song many of his songs remain popular and several have even entered folk song status, something no other 20th-century American songwriter can claim.
As one of the most seminal figures of the twentieth century, both in the world of music and in American culture more generally, and as one of the rare songwriters equally successful with popular songs, Broadway shows, and Hollywood scores, Irving Berlin is the subject of an enormous corpus of writing, scattered throughout countless publications and archives. A noted performer and interpreter of Berlin's works, Benjamin Sears has unprecedented familiarity with these sources and brings together in this Reader a broad range of the most insightful primary and secondary materials. Grouped together according to the chronology of Berlin's life and work, each section and article features a critical introduction to orient the reader and contextualize the materials within the framework of American musical history. Taken as a whole, the writings -- many by Berlin himself -- provide a new perspective on Berlin that highlights his musical genius in the context of his artistic development.